A Tiruppur court on Tuesday awarded death penalty to Chinnasamy -- the mastermind in the Sankar caste killing case. Sankar, a Dalit man, was hacked to death in broad daylight at Udumalaipettai in March 2016, by killers hired by his wife Kausalya's father -- who belongs to the Thevar community.
The judge, Alamelu Natarajan, pronounced that Chinnasamy would get the death penalty for murder, 10 years for criminal conspiracy, and 3 years for other charges. He will be hanged after he serves the sentence on the other charges. The accused will serve the jail time concurrently.
The court also awarded death penalty to Accused 4 Jegadesan, Accused 5 Manikandan (Palani), Accused 6 Selvakumar, Accused 7 Kala Tamilvaanan, Accused 8 Mathan alias Michael. Accused 4 to 7 will also serve 10 year sentences for Section 304 of IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 5 years for Section 147 (rioting), and 3 years under Section 148 (rioting). These sentences will also run concurrently.
Accused 9, Dhanraj alias Stephan, has been awarded life imprisonment with no possibility of remission. This means he will spend the rest of his life in jail.
Accused 11, Manikandan (Pattiveeranpatty), was sentenced to 5 years in prison.
The penalty to be paid by the convicts will be distributed equally to Kausalya, and Sankar's father.
Meanwhile, the court acquitted Kausalya's mother Annalakshmi, who was Accused 2 in the case. Pandi Durai, Accused 3 and an uncle of Kausalya, was also acquitted. The court also acquitted Accused 10, Prasanna, a relative of Kausalya.
Reacting to the verdict, Kausalya told media persons, "This verdict will inspire fear in the minds of caste fanatics. It also inspires faith in our justice system."
What happened in court
The Tiruppur District Sessions court hasn't seen such a large media contingent for quite some time now. As hordes of reporters waited outside, nine accused in the Sankar murder were brought in a police van.
The four men who were caught on video hacking 22-year-old Sankar, a Dalit man to death on March 13, 2016 walked into court, their heads down. Each one of them sported vermilion and sandalwood paste on their foreheads.
As they waited outside the courtroom, Kausalya's parents were smiling nervously, speaking in hushed tones to the police officers who had accompanied them.
At 12:00 noon, the judge, Alamelu Natarajan got down to business. She first addressed Kausalya's father Chinnasamy, who is Accused number 1 in the case. A taxi driver and financier, this man belonging to the socially dominant Thevar community was guilty of masterminding the murder of the young Dalit man who had married his daughter.
The judge asked Chinnasamy what punishment he deserved. When he replied that he had nothing to do with the crime, the judge abruptly told him that she was only asking about his punishment.
"Give me minimum punishment. I have a son who is going to college," he said.
Then swiftly, the judge addressed seven other accused in the case, asking each one what punishment they deserved.
In sombre tones, the men who had no qualms in hacking Sankar to death said they deserved minimum punishment.
The judge however did not address Kausalya's mother Annalakshmi, her maternal uncle Pandidurai and another accused who is a relative.
The Special Public Prosecutor appointed by the Tamil Nadu government for the case, U Sankaranarayanan, argued that the case should be classified as 'rarest of rare' and therefore all the guilty deserved capital punishment.
It was a case of caste hatred and was 'diabolically planned and cruelly carried out', he said.
“We had argued in the court today on why they should be given capital punishment. We mainly highlighted four (earlier) judgements to argue the case. (These judgements say that) in case of an honour killing or the murder of a Dalit, capital punishment must be granted. If they murder someone helplessly, they should be given death sentence. Or if they hire people to commit murder, they should be granted capital sentence. In this case, all these four judgements of the Supreme Court are applicable," Sankaranarayanan told media persons after the verdict.
He added that they would also be filing an appeal against acquittal for Accused 2, Accused 3 and Accused 10.
Raising her tone, the judge also told the defense, "Any murder is serious. Sankar was also a human being."
The father a mastermind with evil intentions?
The judge agreed that the father was the mastermind but questioned why he deserved capital punishment.
The prosecutor argued that Kausalya's father had planned, paid and allowed for this brutal murder to happen in 'broad daylight on a busy road.’
Taking note of this point the judge observed that while he may have decided the the couple had to die, he was not responsible for the place and time at which the crime took place.
"He is the father of a 19-year-old girl and he was angry with had happened. At that point if he had not had people to execute this crime it may not have taken place. He had reason to be angry," said the judge. She further stated that the intention, i.e."if it was a caste crime had to be proved."
Following this, the judge sentenced Chinnasamy and the other accused. Chinnasamy was awarded the death penalty, and so were five other accused who executed the killing.
Reacting to the verdict, Kausalya told the media later in the day, "Justice for Sankar is not just this verdict. There will be justice only there's a separate law against honour crimes." She also asked for police protection to be given to her.
This story has been updated.